Task force wants to save old GE buildings

A group of citizens discusses what purpose old GE buildings can serve next.

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – It once was a highlight of the Summit City, but the General Electric campus now sits vacant. A group of citizens hopes it can play a part in changing that and helping the area flourish once more.

General Electric announced in January of 2014 that it would shut down operations in Fort Wayne and move out of the city. A former worker there told NewsChannel 15 Thursday that the final handful of workers last day on the job was sometime in February of this year.

The campus has sat completely empty since.

That’s why some concerned citizens formed a group, called the GE Task Force. The second meeting took place Thursday.

“There is a lot of history in these buildings,” said Charlotte Weybright, who helped start up the group. “It was a major employer with 10,000 to 12,000 workers. We need to focus on how to adaptively reuse older buildings, instead of tearing them down.”

GE began operations in Fort Wayne in 1911 and grew its operation to about 30 buildings across 32 acres on the southwest edge of downtown. The electric company has already demolished some buildings.

It was announced in February that one building would come down.

It was also reported in May of last year that three others buildings would get taken down along with the iconic GE sign that used to light up downtown Fort Wayne. In June of 2014 a Louisville, Ky. GE plant expressed interest in the sign. However, it continues to sit on a GE rooftop in Fort Wayne.

“There’s a disappointment GE has left but that’s an economic decision they had to make,” said fifth district Councilman Geoff Paddock, who also helped start up the GE Task Force. The campus sits in Paddock’s district.

Those on the task force fear GE will continue demolishing buildings and will lead to a drop in nearby property values.

“If more demolition happens, it may bring instability to the area,” Paddock said. “We have some time before more demolition is likely to happen, but if we can come up with a plan that’s viable for one or maybe many of the buildings then we would at least like to approach General Electric about that and have a serious discussion.”

One person at Thursday’s meeting showed interest in purchasing a building.

Those involved in the task force are working to get maps of the campus and a better history of each building’s previous purpose to see how each one could be used next.

Recent Fort Wayne history shows old, empty buildings can serve a purpose again. “There’s the Superior Lofts and the Randall Lofts,” Weybright said. “Those old buildings were turned into smaller apartments. You could take a building and make it a GE museum. Take all the signs that need a home and make a sign museum.”

Paddock said some of the buildings also have a historic architectural appeal.

“They are some of the old iconic designs from a hundred years ago,” the councilman said. “The community has shown it wants to preserve fine architecture. Look at the Lincoln Tower and the Allen County Courthouse.”

While it’s too tough to know if the task force will get results or not, Paddock said the Broadway Corridor has reemerged. He and others on the task force hope new business on the campus leads to further growth.

“This might be the trigger for development to the south,” said Weybright. “This major campus can be a real instigation for further development for small business, such as the new and growing tech industry.”

The GE Task Force scheduled its next meeting for June 18. It’ll take place at 2 p.m. in the basement floor of Citizens Square.

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